Star Trek has always celebrated knowledge and the scientific method. Disco Season 4’s big threat just confirms it.
The utopian future depicted in Star Trek comes with heavy doses of knowledge and enlightenment. The original series repeatedly championed the scientific method to resolve problems – no matter how weird or outlandish – and brainpower saved the day far more often than phasers or fisticuffs. Mr. Spock served as the ultimate embodiment of the concept, using cool logic and pure intellect to solve crisis after crisis.
The more modern-day Trek shows, most recently Star Trek: Discovery, have made a point of integrating that message into their narratives. Everyone in Starfleet is superhumanly intelligent, and they’re hardly the only ones. The franchise’s utopian future rests upon the shoulders of a well-educated humanity making maximum use of their thinking skills. It’s often so subtle as to appear like a natural part of the story (like a certain cameo appearance), and that’s kind of the point. Season 4 of Discovery quietly draws a line back to this idea that Star Trek has been clear about from its very beginnings.
“Intelligence” is a relative term, especially in epic science fiction of this nature, so proper context is important. Figures like Spock, Data and Paul Stamets are considered superhumanly intelligent by their peers, and yet those peers are themselves absolute prodigies by real-world standards. It’s a natural extension of the franchise’s founding principle – that human beings are evolving towards a better future as they continue to build on the things previous generations learned — and it’s often cloaked in “technobabble” as any given character explains the inner workings of a high-tech gadget or scientific phenomenon in deliberately obtuse terms.
Star Trek: The Next Generation found an interesting way to codify this during Season 1, Episode 17, “When the Bough Breaks.” The plot concerns an advanced alien planet whose inhabitants abduct the children of the Enterprise-D. The aliens are dying and intend for the children to take their place. But the set-up for this plot informs Star Trek’s super-brainy future. As the episode opens, Commander Riker collides with a young boy running away from his father because the child is trying to get out of school. “I hate that teacher and I hate calculus!” he cries, while his grumpy father explains that “Everyone needs an understanding of basic calculus, whether they like it or not!”
Had that scene taken place in a modern setting, it would have been about multiplication tables. It made a quick reference not only about life onboard the new Enterprise – which included families and schools among other things – but how far the human race as a whole had advanced in 300 years. Calculus was now considered so basic that every fourth grader learned it… largely without a hitch, judging by the intellect of the show’s adults.
That reputation became increasingly codified as the franchise went on, rarely needing to be expressed out loud but always humming beneath the surface. Figures like Chief O’Brien and Nog on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were essentially working-class repair personnel and yet possessed enough brain power to put modern nuclear physicists to shame. Discovery has been bolder about the smarts of its stars. Season 2, Episode 12, “Through the Valley of Shadows,” features members of the crew engaging in an “auto-antonym” game: finding words that mean both one thing and the opposite of that thing. The game is so complex that it requires Detmer to explain its purpose to Stamets (“I know what auto-antonym means,” Stamets grumbles), and yet the characters are playing it over a meal like a crossword puzzle.
Season 4 made intelligence integral to solving its overall mystery. As the crew of the Discovery seeks the cause of the destructive anomaly, they begin assembling clues about the nature of the beings on the other side. That culminates in Season 4, Episode 12, “Species Ten-C,” in which Detmer makes intuitive connections between wildly diverse clusters of information — including astronomy, molecular physics, biology and linguistics — to determine how the creatures on the other side of the divide communicate. This looks like a far-fetched intuitive leap, and yet it’s normal in the context of Star Trek. The character is just the product of a superior education.
Elsewhere in the season, the real villain is revealed to be a rogue scientist, and the story ends with one character being enlightened about his actions. Everyone either learns something or shows off that they were pretty smart to begin with. By utilizing this plot, Star Trek: Discovery confirms that the franchise’s vision rests on intelligence — and a lot of it.
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About The Author
Robert Vaux (645 Articles Published)
A native Californian, Rob Vaux has been a critic and entertainment writer for over 20 years, including work for Collider, Mania.com, the Sci-Fi Movie Page, and Rotten Tomatoes. He lives in the Los Angeles area, roots for the Angels, and is old enough to remember when Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was a big deal.